Unpaid Internships: Legal Ramifications in New York

Unpaid Interns
Unpaid Interns

The legal ramifications of hiring unpaid interns in New York and elsewhere are making many businesses sit up and take notice.

Two former interns suing Condé Nast Publications have the corporate community in an uproar with rumors of doom and gloom and lawsuits to come as unpaid interns begin challenging labor laws and intern policies.

The practice of hiring underpaid or unpaid interns has become a standard in many industries, especially in media companies and other ‘glamor’ industries. However, with the news of Condé Nast’s lawsuit, many industries are second guessing their intern policy and seeking the advice of legal counsel to avoid unwanted legal ramifications.

Do Unpaid Internships Violate the Fair Labor Act?

The lawsuit filed on June 13th by interns at W Magazine and the New Yorker against parent company, Condé Nast Publications, state that Condé Nast violated federal labor laws. The lawsuit seeks a class action on behalf of all affected workers, citing the Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires all companies to pay employees an hourly minimum wage.

Intern Case Study: Condé Nast

Lauren Ballinger and Matthew Leib, plaintiffs in the case against Condé Nast Publications, believe Condé Nast failed to properly follow labor laws. Ballinger worked as an intern for several months for W Magazine in 2009, organizing accessories, performing vendor deliveries, and running personal errands among other job functions for a rate of $12 per day. Leib worked as an intern from 2009 to 2010 for the New Yorker, managing email correspondences, reviewing ‘Shouts and Murmurs’ submissions, proofreading outgoing mail, and opening incoming mail at a rate of $300-$500 per each three-month or four-month internship.

Who Benefits Most From an Internship?

In the case against Condé Nast Publications, interns are beginning to weigh who the real benefactor is in their internship relationship. Who benefits most? Is it the intern or the company? One key element to determining whether an internship is fair is by looking at the balance between educational value of the experience for the intern and whether the company is using the internship to ‘replace’ regular workers. Many interns have taken an internal analysis of their working relationship and have become conscious of the labor violations being perpetrated by so many. They have simply had enough. With legal ramifications on the horizon, companies are advised to seek counsel from an employment lawyer to ensure their internship policies are on the up-and-up.

Contact Us

Located in Manhattan, the New York City employment lawyers at Granovsky & Sundaresh have experience with these changing laws. We are committed to protecting the rights of New York employees. Contact us for a case evaluation.